On January 1, 1987, 312 vehicles started from Paris on a nearly 12,800-mile trek through Europe, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal, the famed and grueling Paris-Dakar Rally. Two of those vehicles were diesel-powered 1987 Nissan Patrol sport utilities, bedecked in the colors of Fanta Limon, a soft drink.
Like so many Paris-Dakar hopefuls, the Fanta Limon Patrol bearing the racing No. 212 was too badly damaged to continue after rolling down a tall dune in the Sahara. But No. 211, driven by Miguel Prieto and Ramo Termens, not only finished, it won the diesel class and placed ninth overall, becoming the first diesel-powered vehicle to finish among the top 10.
In the ensuing years, diesels would come to dominate the rally (which because of political unrest in Africa subsequently moved to South America), but the Patrol was the first oil-burner to show such potential.
Since Nissan’s Paris-Dakar effort was based in Spain, with Nissan Spain also doing the sponsorship deal with the Coca-Cola brand, after the rally No. 211 was retired and offered to a private car collector for his museum in Girona, a historic city in northeastern Spain.
Two years ago, technicians working at Nissan’s European Technical Center in Barcelona saw images of No. 211 on an internet forum, realized the 30th anniversary of its historic run was approaching and contacted the museum and asked if they might reclaim the vehicle and celebrate that anniversary.
As it turned out, No. 211 basically had been rusting away for nearly three decades.
“The engine was in terrible condition,” said Juan Villegas, who was part of the eight-man restoration team. “It was impossible to start and many parts were heavily corroded. The front axle was quite damaged, but the worst thing was the electrics, which had been badly attacked by rats.”
The rusted remains were transported to Barcelona in May 2014. Working after hours and on weekends, the eight-person restoration team took on the task of bringing the Nissan back to life. While team members worked on their own time, Nissan’s technical center funded the parts needed for the restoration under the company’s “Performance Innovation” fund, money the company earmarks for such projects. To find correct period parts, the team searched Nissan dealerships across Europe for new old stock.
“We wanted the car to be accurate in every way,” Villegas said in a news release, “and were lucky enough to get the very old drawings and service manuals. We followed all the fine adjustments to get the exact Paris-Dakar race set-up.”
The restoration was completed last month and No. 211 traveled to the Sahara for a homecoming on the dunes.
“The spirit of innovation that was at the heart of Nissan’s entry into the 1987 Paris-Dakar has been all around us as we have completed this project,” Villegas said. “We felt inspired by the memory of that team, which decided to participate in the most challenging race in the world and achieved such success.”
One of the original racing team members still works at Nissan’s European technical center.
“That was a proud moment,” said Pedro Diaz Illan, now manager of the electrical and electronics engineering team. “Our brains, hearts and souls have gone into this project and it has not been easy. But to see the car in the desert again was just fantastic.”